Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Walking the walk, stalking the stalk

with 22 comments

My nature walk in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on July 10th had me stalking sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), not just their buds and flower heads but also their rough stalks that present so many opportunities for photographic abstractions. For this portrait I aimed down at a horizontal portion of a thick stalk. Note the two small ants on it. Note also that the stalk meaning ‘a stem’ and the stalk meaning ‘to pursue’ are unrelated. It’s not unusual for two words in a language to start out different and then coincidentally evolve in ways that lead them to end up the same.


One morning two or three decades ago I was watching a Sunday television talk show. At one point the moderator interviewed a partisan who came on the show to oppose a bill that was pending in Congress. The partisan said that passage of the bill would cause X to happen, where X was some dire consequence that I no longer remember. The moderator, however, had done his homework; he pulled out a copy of the pending bill and read aloud the section relevant to the partisan’s claim that X would happen. It was clear to everyone listening that the provision in the bill would not cause X to happen. The partisan was now exposed as being at best incorrect, or at worst a liar. Nevertheless, twice more during the interview the partisan claimed that if the bill passed X would happen. What do you make of people who persist in repeating a verifiably false claim?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 21, 2021 at 6:45 AM

22 Responses

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  1. It occurs to me that you enjoy stalking word stems as much as flower stems. I suspect no one’s going to be able to stem your stalking any time soon!

    Speaking of old sociology texts, your final question reminded me of the classic When Prophecy Fails, written by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. Its insights can be applied across quite a range of behaviors; I’ve used the book as a basis for a couple of posts. It might be time to make use of it again.


    July 21, 2021 at 7:15 AM

    • I think you’re right that only some drastic occurrence could stem my stalking of word stems any time soon.

      While I wasn’t familiar with When Prophecy Fails, I’m aware of the way cultists “reinterpret” their beliefs when predictions fail to come true. A good example is the way that for decade after decade true believers in Marxism have kept offering the excuse that that ideology failed in Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba, etc., only because it wasn’t implemented properly. A rational person would conclude there’s something wrong with the ideology itself, which of course there is: it denies human nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 21, 2021 at 7:34 AM

      • I was just reading a history about the creation of the Erie Canal, and the wild decades in NY in the decades after, with economic development and several religious movements that swept the region, including the Millerites, who declared that the world would end in 1843. And a some of their descendants continue to prepare, 178 years later.

        Robert Parker

        July 21, 2021 at 7:22 PM

  2. That’s a neat abstract. I’ve never really looked at the stalks.


    July 21, 2021 at 9:43 AM

  3. That a fascinating image with varied brown colors, interesting patterns, and stalk texture. I like it a lot!

    I have lost faith in the news media. I know a lot of friends/acquaintances, sadly, trust what they hear and never question it. I think in part, they refuse to believe the corruption has gone so far.


    July 21, 2021 at 10:45 AM

    • Sunflower stalks have intrigued me for years, so when I saw this one I knew I had a good abstract portrait in the making, provided I could get enough in focus. The two ants were a bonus.

      At least in the example I cited from way back when, the moderator had done the requisite research and let viewers know what the truth was. In contrast to that sterling example, today’s media have become biased, partisan, and selective in what they report. And let’s not forget hypocrisy: examples abound of similar incidents getting reported on very differently, depending on which political party the incident involves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 21, 2021 at 11:27 AM

  4. “What do you make of people who persist in repeating a verifiably false claim?” I guess I expect they’ll be elected to public office.

    Robert Parker

    July 21, 2021 at 7:24 PM

  5. I do like this abstract image including the ants on the stalk. The ants made me smile because I feel I am being stalked by ants. To see an ant inside a Christchurch house was a very rare event up until about 10 years ago. Last week I had the biggest visitation yet into the kitchen. It was fascinating to watch but eventually I decided enough was enough and took some drastic measures. End of the invasion ( temporarily) but a couple of scouts remained; one found in my pyjama pants and another bit me while I was cleaning up some kitchen scraps. I am interested in your choice of the word ‘partisan’. Is that in common use in the US? I haven’t heard it here for years.


    July 21, 2021 at 8:13 PM

  6. It was a fun challenge, trying to find the two ants on the patterned stalk!

    Ms. Liz

    July 22, 2021 at 4:00 AM

    • The ants moved around a lot. From a photographer’s standpoint, getting both of them in focus at the same time had been a challenge, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 22, 2021 at 6:37 AM

  7. I suppose I would call them pretty clever. They know what will stick in the minds of listeners. Repeat the lie often enough and it becomes the truth… Do I get a prize for cynicism too?😉


    July 22, 2021 at 4:11 AM

    • About 15 years ago I took to saying that if the Nobel Committee offered a prize for Cynicism, I’d bee a shoo-in to win. I’m willing to share it with you. While I originally associated “The Big Lie” with the Nazis., it’s now a ploy of the political left in my own country.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 22, 2021 at 6:45 AM

  8. […] may recall that in a post last week I mentioned a television interview program decades ago that made a big impression on me because a […]

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